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Despite Big Tobacco's Denial, Critics Claim Flavored Cigarettes Target Kids

Jan 18, 2006 | Critics are arguing that flavored cigarettes were specifically designed to make smoking more attractive to children and teenagers.  They point to Big Tobacco’s identification of young-adults (such as in internal documents from R.J. Reynolds) to support their claim that new flavors such as  Twista Lime, Winter Toffee, and Midnight Berry are being used to attract younger smokers rather than to hold onto older smokers.

There is no dispute that the survival of the multi-billion dollar industry requires a steady (and substantial) influx of new smokers to replace an aging consumer base that is losing large numbers of long-time smokers to death, aggressive stop-smoking initiatives, and state laws that either ban smoking in many or all public places or levy hefty taxes on those purchasing cigarettes.

Thus, it is not so farfetched to assume that the industry needs to recruit a percentage of the under-21 demographic in order to perpetuate itself. Clearly, while Big Tobacco pays off substantial class-action and individual settlements, defends ongoing litigation in many states, and awaits a federal judge’s decision on conspiracy charges, it is not an industry that appears to be planning its own funeral just yet.  

Flavored cigarettes were introduced around 1999 but have been more aggressively marketed in the past few years.  According to many experts, the latest release of new flavors appears to be directly correlated to the increase in advertising and marketing restrictions that have made it more difficult for manufacturers to sell their product to young smokers.

While tobacco manufacturers strongly maintain that they are not trying to promote underage or youth smoking, critics are doubtful given these new candy-like names.  Consumer advocacy groups are urging parents to speak to state legislators about enacting bans on the flavored cigarettes.

According to the American Lung Association, one-third of all smokers had their first experience with tobacco by the time they were 14 years old.  Experts argue that teenagers need to be deterred from smoking, not attracted to it by enticing new gimmicks like flavored cigarettes.

Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia have already introduced legislation to ban flavored cigarettes.  

Critics believe that the marketing of flavored cigarettes is in direct violation of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between state attorneys general and major U.S. tobacco manufacturers.  At that time, the companies agreed to modify their marketing campaigns.  Tobacco companies also agreed to promote and finance an extensive anti-smoking campaign and to release information to the public that had formerly been guarded.  

Carrie Carpenter, a research analyst at the Harvard School of Public Health, argued that there is specific documentation that “this concept of flavored cigarettes has been associated with new and younger smokers.”  

Carpenter, along with a group of researchers from Harvard that she led, has published a report on the subject in a recent issue of the journal Health Affairs.  

When surveyed, young smokers said that the “aftertaste” associated with cigarette smoking was one of their concerns. That offensive aftertaste is partially eliminated by the “pellet technology” which is used in certain flavored tobacco products.  

Carpenter argues that it is highly suspect to see the tobacco companies increase the amount and variety of these flavored products in what appears to be a response to this information about the preferences of young smokers.

Carpenter is also concerned that there could be possible health risks associated with the pellets that are inserted in the filter area of a cigarette in order to provide a controlled release of the flavor.

Fred McConnell, a spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds, the manufacturers of the new flavored cigarettes, argued that they are not intentionally targeting minors with their new products. “We don’t want children to smoke, not only because it is illegal to sell minors in every state, but also because children lack the maturity of judgment to assess the inherent health risks of smoking.”

Parents should be aware of the enticing nature of flavored cigarettes and should speak to their children and adolescents about the severe health risks associated with smoking any kind of tobacco product. 

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